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NEWS: Lamon steered Tafelmusik to international acclaim (July 2021)

August 16th, 2021 · No Comments

 Director remembered for leadership, dedication to education 

Tafelmusik trailblazer Jeanne Lamon died on June 20, at age 71 in Victoria, BC. She is credited with putting the city of Toronto on the map in the global classical music scene. COURTESY SIAN RICHARDS/TAFELMUSIK

By Joshua Chong

Jeanne Lamon was a titan and trailblazer on the classical music scene. Throughout her tenure as Tafelmusik’s director, which lasted from 1981 to 2014, Lamon guided the Toronto-based orchestra and chamber choir from its humble beginnings as a tiny ensemble of young musical idealists into an internationally-acclaimed group known for its commitment to artistic training and baroque music excellence. She died of cancer in Victoria, B.C. on June 20, at age 71. 

Born in New York City on Aug. 14, 1949 as the youngest of three siblings, Lamon’s love of music came from listening to her mother play Bach on the piano. But it was only when she saw violinist Isaac Stern play on television that she truly became enthralled with music. 

“I wanted to do what he was doing,” she said in a 1986 interview with the Toronto Star. “I told my parents immediately I wanted a violin.”

At age 7, she enrolled in her first lesson. She continued with the violin throughout her youth, studying at Westchester Conservatory of Music and earning a bachelor’s degree in music at Brandeis University.  

Lamon then moved to Amsterdam to study under Herman Krebbers, concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It was there where she met her partner of 43-years Christina Mahler, a cellist who would follow Lamon to Tafelmusik and become principal cellist.

Later, Lamon specialized in baroque violin under Sigiswald Kuijken, a Belgian early-music specialist. 

This was the 1970s, the era of the baroque renaissance, and Lamon made a name for herself as a soloist and conductor for the burgeoning crop of early-music orchestras. One of those was the Toronto-based Tafelmusik ensemble, playing out of the Annex’s Trinity St. Paul Church, located on Bloor St. W and Walmer Road.

Founded in 1979 by Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves, the group had an ambitious goal: establish a world-class baroque ensemble. 

It seemed absurd at the time, and even Lamon acknowledged it. Toronto was practically unknown in the classical music world and had few supports available for musical visionaries like Solway and Graves. Yet when they invited Lamon to be their guest conductor for Tafelmusik’s first season, she jumped at the opportunity. Soon after, she was appointed music director. 

Lamon would realize the unthinkable goal of putting Tafelmusik, and Canada, on the map. With over 70 recordings, nine Juno Awards, a Grammy nomination, and multiple world tours—including several trips to Carnegie Hall—under Lamon’s leadership, Tafelmusik became one of the world’s foremost early-music orchestras.  

“Jeanne was an extraordinary individual—ahead of her time,” said the ensemble’s executive director, Carol Kehoe. “She was a passionate musician who was totally engaged with the donors, subscribers, volunteers, and funders who supported her ‘baby’—a baroque ensemble that grew into a world-recognized powerhouse.”

Lamon’s leadership style was one of collaboration and creativity. Tafelmusik excelled, in part, due to its frequent partnerships, including a long-standing association with Opera Atelier, Toronto’s baroque opera company.   

Her dedication to musical excellence and creative programming helped Tafelmusik grow its audience base, and shed the stereotype of the ‘pretentious baroque orchestra.’ For an ensemble whose repertoire primarily consisted of music that is roughly 400 years-old and written by white European men, Lamon programmed concerts that were bold, daring, and inventive. 

Perhaps none more so than “The Galileo Project,” a multimedia performance piece filled with astronomical projections and narration, all paired with the music of Vivaldi. Conceived and scripted by Tafelmusik’s bassist Alison Mackay, the show went on to tour internationally and receive critical acclaim. 

After stepping down as music director in 2014, Lamon continued to help train a new generation of baroque music specialists by leading Tafelmusik’s Baroque Summer Institute and Winter Institute, the company’s two training programs. 

Her career as a musician, conductor, and educator received numerous awards, including the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario. 

For current music director Elisa Citterio, Lamon was a gifted leader. 

“She remains and will always be an integral part of our wonderful organization because we are the fruit of her tireless passion and tenacity,” said Citterio. “We are heartbroken to have lost her, but the memory of her smile, laughter, and unbridled creativity will console and uplift us.”

In 2019, Lamon and Mahler moved to Victoria, B.C., where they continued to perform as guest musicians. In January of this year, Lamon was diagnosed with lung cancer. She passed away on June 20, leaving behind Mahler, her older sister and brother, and 19 nieces and nephews.

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